First- vs. Last-Touch Attribution: A Comprehensive Comparison

Published on: | Updated on: | Trisha Miles

Marketing attribution models—sometimes a labyrinth, sometimes a gold mine.  

In the captivating world of RevOps, understanding the intricate interplay between first-touch and last-touch attribution is the initial step toward striking gold. 

According to one study, 41% of marketers use the last-touch method for online attribution, while 44% prefer the first-touch method.1 

With their popularity neck and neck, it’s challenging for B2B companies to decide which attribution model will best serve their campaigns. 

That’s why we’re diving into the enigmatic realm of attribution. Read on for an exploration of first- vs. last-touch attribution to gain clarity on which method you should use to enhance your data-driven decision-making and increase revenue. 

First-Touch Attribution: Where the Magic Begins 

First-touch attribution is more than just a label; it's the ignition of your marketing journey. It's the spotlight on that crucial first interaction between your brand and a potential customer—a click, a like, a sign-up—where the magic begins. 

This marketing model assigns the entire conversion credit to the first interaction or touchpoint a user has with your brand. This inaugural interaction could be a click on an ad, a social media engagement, or any other action that serves as the starting point for a customer's journey. This is a linear model that’s easy to grasp and visualize. 

Last-Touch Attribution: The Final Chapter 

In contrast, last-touch attribution allocates all conversion credit to the final touchpoint just before a conversion occurs. In this model, the last action taken by a customer is deemed the most significant, regardless of the myriad interactions that may have led up to it. 

Imagine a customer's journey through various touchpoints, including ad clicks, social media engagements, and email interactions. In this model, the last interaction, such as a purchase or form submission, gets full credit for the conversion. The focus is on the closing stages of the journey. 

Different Perspectives: How the Digital Marketing Attribution Models Compare 

As their names suggest, first-touch and last-touch attribution models fundamentally differ in their viewpoints. Each comes with pros and cons that are worth weighing when deciding which to use in your RevOps strategy: 

Pros and Cons of First-Touch Attribution

  • Simplicity and Clarity: First-touch attribution is straightforward and easy to implement. It attributes all credit to the first customer interaction, making it an ideal choice for those seeking simplicity in their attribution model. This clarity can be particularly beneficial for marketers new to attribution analysis. 
  • Focus on Brand Awareness: By highlighting the initial touchpoint, first-touch attribution helps evaluate brand awareness and the effectiveness of your brand's introduction. It allows you to understand how effective your marketing efforts are at capturing the attention of potential customers right from the start. 
  • Identifying Top-of-the-Funnel (TOFU) Strategies: This model is well-suited for analyzing top-of-the-funnel strategies, such as ad campaigns or social media outreach. It provides valuable insights into the effectiveness of these initial interactions and their role in attracting prospects. 

First touch attribution's primary shortcoming is its narrow focus. By assigning all credit to the first interaction, it disregards the complexity of the complete customer journey. This oversimplification can lead to a distorted view of the customer's actual path to conversion. 

This model often undervalues the significance of later touchpoints that directly contributed to conversions. By neglecting these contributors, it can underestimate the influence of channels that guide prospects further along the sales funnel.2

Pros and Cons of Last-Touch Attribution

  • Clear and Direct Insights: Last-touch attribution offers crystal-clear insights into the actions that immediately precede a conversion. It's a direct and intuitive model that focuses on the closing stages of the customer journey, making it invaluable for pinpointing the final touchpoints responsible for conversions. 
  • Identifying Immediate Contributors: If you need to analyze which interactions were most influential in sealing the deal, last-touch attribution is the go-to model. It highlights the last interactions that directly led to conversions, providing actionable insights for refining your closing strategies. 

A significant drawback of last-touch attribution is its neglect of early-stage touchpoints. These early interactions, such as awareness-building content or initial engagement, often play a crucial role in moving prospects through the funnel. Ignoring them can lead to missed opportunities for optimization. 

Additionally, this model tends to undervalue the long-term brand-building efforts that contribute to customer journeys. These efforts may not result in an immediate conversion but are instrumental in nurturing and retaining customers over time. 

Choosing the Right Attribution Model 

Imagine you're launching a new product or entering a new market. You've invested heavily in building brand awareness through social media campaigns, influencer partnerships, and blog content 

First-touch attribution will help you understand how successful your initial brand-building efforts have been. If a customer's first interaction was through a social media ad, this model would attribute the entire conversion credit to that touchpoint, revealing the impact of your awareness campaigns. 

In a scenario where your marketing campaign focuses on converting prospects who have already shown interest, such as cart abandoners in an e-commerce store, last-touch attribution is the way to go.  

This model illuminates the final interactions that lead to conversions. If you find that most conversions occur after prospects receive a cart abandonment email with a unique discount code (the last touchpoint), you can conclude that this strategy is highly effective at persuading prospects to complete their purchases. 

In other words, first-touch attribution is most suitable when you want to gauge the effectiveness of your initial marketing efforts. It's an ideal choice for understanding brand awareness and the impact of your introductory touchpoints. You can use it when you need a straightforward assessment of your initial interactions with potential customers.  

Last-touch attribution is the preferred model when you want to focus on the closing stages of the customer journey. It's particularly valuable when you need to analyze the immediate actions that drove a conversion. You can use it to pinpoint the last interactions that sealed the deal. 

First- vs. Last-Touch Attribution: The Conclusion 

Ultimately, the art of attribution lies in the balance of recognizing the value of each touchpoint in the customer journey and leveraging it to optimize your marketing approach. So, whether you're setting out to bolster brand awareness or fine-tune your closing strategies, first-touch and last-touch attribution are valuable tools in your marketing toolkit. 

At ProperExpression, our RevOps experts provide a comprehensive understanding of these and other attribution models. Book a consultation to learn how we can help you master the intricacies of attribution so you can gain the power to make data-driven decisions that propel your marketing strategy to new heights.